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TransLink’s ambitious plan to avoid interrupting passengers during massive station upgrades

Passengers at Commercial-Broadway SkyTrain station in Vancouver, B.C., in November 2012.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

The Metro Vancouver transportation authority is betting it can engineer the most dramatic overhaul of SkyTrain in the system's three-decade history – $164-million in upgrades to seven SkyTrain stations – while minimizing the impact on thousands of daily passengers.

Construction has been under way on a dramatically revamped Main Street-Science World station, as well as at Scott Road station in Surrey, but TransLink officials used a briefing Friday to detail stepped-up construction plans for the coming years.

Other stations set for upgrades are Commercial-Broadway, Metrotown, New Westminster, Surrey Central and Joyce-Collingwood. Four of the stations will get new secure parking areas for bicycles.

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The busy Commercial-Broadway station – a nexus for 150,000 SkyTrain and bus passenger boardings each day – will get a new east platform for passengers boarding westbound Expo Line trains.

Other changes will include a new pedestrian passageway over Broadway linking the Millennium Line platforms with the current Expo Line.

Work on that project begins next fall and will run over two years, arriving in sync with the new Evergreen Line in the northeastern areas of Metro Vancouver that is expected to funnel thousands more passengers into the venerable station.

"The improvements are being designed so the stations can remain open," Jeff Busby, senior manager of infrastructure planning and network management, said in an interview following the briefing at TransLink headquarters. "Obviously, over time, as we get closer to construction we need to continue to reassess that, but our intent right now is to keep them open."

That means significant construction, such as building the Commercial Drive pieces, while tens of thousands of passengers using buses and SkyTrain are flowing through the working station.

"We're committed to making sure the stations are as accessible as possible during this construction for people and we're working around them," Mr. Busby said.

He said the focus will be balancing safety and meeting deadlines. "We think we have achieved that with our designs so far," he said.

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"It does mean that during certain periods, people may have to enter or exit through locations they're not used to, but that's the approach we're using."

Mr. Busby said the point is to transform the line for its next 30 years. SkyTrain made its debut in 1986 with 15 stations.

Right now the Expo Line moves 14,000 people per hour per direction at its busiest times. However, TransLink has concluded it needs to enact improvements to allow for 25,000 people per hour.

"That's what we think we need for 30 years or more. To get there, we need station improvements," Mr. Busby said. "What we have is a program of improvements of which the stations are helping us get there."

The $164-million cost of the upgrades has already been confirmed as part of TransLink spending. The federal government is providing $41-million, the B.C. government $83-million and TransLink $40-million.

Among other stations set for revamps, Metrotown station – SkyTrain's second busiest with 50,000 trips per day – is essentially being rebuilt from top to bottom. It will get a rebuilt east entrance and new west entry, and dramatic renovations to the bus exchange that serves as a transfer point for 12 routes. Work begins there in spring, 2014, and is to be done by fall, 2016.

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Surrey Central station will get upgrades to the station and bus area, but TransLink officials said planning and timelines are in the works. New Westminster station is in the midst of a major mixed-use development, getting new escalators, stairs, a new elevator and a new design in construction that begins next summer and is to be done by fall, 2015.

Follow me on Twitter: @ianabailey

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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